Wiki what? Wiki who? Wiki why?

Carlos Virgen rounds up some thoughts on wiki use by news organizations, but I always get the feeling that most reporters and editors stop reading at the word “wikitorial,” freak out, and hide under the desks.

Still here?

Good. Carlos has a great idea about using a wiki as a “contextual archive” for related stories. (Matt Thompson might call them “topics.”)

Carlos says:

“So maybe calling it a wiki is the wrong thing to do. Maybe it would be more precise to call it a contextual archive of news stories. Although I think incorporation wiki conventions such as public input via comments and edits (after a reasonable registration to preclude trolls) should be a big part of this feature.”

I like the idea, but I’d like to reiterate my frequent pitch for using wiki software to build an evergreen “FAQ About [Your Town Here].”

It doesn’t even need to be a fully open to the public for editing endeavor — you could use one account for your entire news organization and let any staff edit it.

This is really a wiki in FAQ’s clothing.  This, my friends, is a gateway wiki.

It should be good for SEO if you do it right, it would drive traffic to your news site (because you would link to stories that helped answer the questions, yes?) and it could serve as trip-to-the-morgue-free reference material for reporters.

Looking for those notes on who was the district superintendent in 1981?  Would you rather search your news site (or a filing cabinet) or search your wiki that has links to the pages for the school district, the year, the superintendent, all superintendents, and links to the relevant stories if you really need them after all that?

Back in Santa Cruz, I always thought this would be perfect during tourist season.  Entries on parking, the Boardwalk, Umbrella Man, surf lessons, etc…  The questions locals constantly answer. Well, maybe I answered these more often than most as a bartender, but you get the point.

Then, how about a front page print tease on a regular basis with a fun “fact about town” to drive people to the FAQ and let them know it’s there?

This is low-hanging fruit if you ask me.  I recommend MediaWiki, which looks, feels, and acts like Wikipedia, making it familiar to readers and less complicated than I expected for editors.

[UPDATE: Derek Willis tweeted that he covered this ground and came to similar conclusions in 2005.]

[2nd UPDATE: Brad Flora of Windy Citizen and I ended up having a video chat this afternoon to talk out some ideas around this. Check it out below.]
Should local news sites use wikis? from Knight Pulse on Vimeo.

ReportingOn FAQ

Over at IdeaLab, I’ve posted the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about ReportingOn.

Like this:

Q: So what am I supposed to say about the story I’m working on?

A: As much or little as you want. Maybe you just want to mention something general about your story and tag your update with your beat to let your peers know what you’re up to. Or maybe you have a question that needs an answer, or you’re bored with all the “usual suspects” sources and you’re looking for an introduction to an expert with a different point of view. You’ll probably get exactly as much information out of ReportingOn as you put into it.

Check it out and add your comments there.